Blog

Friday, 11 August 2006 - 5:16pm

The "Freedom" of Professor Ghazi-Walid Falah

I’m coming to this a bit late, but I figured it was still important enough to post about, especially in light of recent events and the hysteria surrounding them.

I’ll let posts from others speak for themselves:

Israel Arrests Geography Professor from the University of Akron

On the 9 July, 2006 Professor Ghazi Walid Falah—a professional geographer who holds dual Arab-Israeli and Canadian citizenship and is a University Lecturer at the University of Akron in Ohio—was arrested by the Israeli authorities near Haifa in northern Israel.

Some time before his arrest Professor Falah had travelled to Israel to visit his mother before she underwent critical brain surgery. On July 9th Professor Falah packed his camera and headed for a popular tourist resort near Nahariya, close to the border with Lebanon.

While taking photographs he was approached by members of the Israeli police force. He was subsequently detained and escorted back to his brother’s house in a nearby town where he had been staying. There he was ordered to collect all of his personal belongings and was ushered away by the police. To date no charges have been publicly brought against Professor Falah and his attorney is under a restraining order not to discuss the case with the media or public.

Recently Professor Falah was released, making a statement to the Canadian Association of Geographers mailing list, a paragraph of which I excerpt below:

I was not allowed access to a lawyer for the first 18 days of my detention. I was freed on July 30 because no charge could be brought. There is no evidence against me because there cannot be. I believe my rights have been gravely violated by this ordeal. It is an affront to international scholarship in the social sciences. The Israelis are proud of their universities and research. But there is another dark side to the world of science pertaining to the realities of Israel: the Israeli government would like to intimidate and silence researchers who speak uncomfortable truths to power. That should not be forgotten. At one level, it is what my detention, humiliation and harassment were all about. Read what I write. Think about its implications.

I have no commentary, except to say that this is indeed chilling. And given the direction of global events these days, I fear that this will happen more and more often. It’s more important than ever that those of us who possess the freedom, in academia, to speak up on contentious issues do so.

Wednesday, 26 July 2006 - 6:27am

Bruno Latour interviewing Michel Serres

M. Serres. Conversations on science, culture, and time / Michel Serres with Bruno Latour. University of Michigan Press, 1995.

Serres, in his discussions with Latour, uses sound, music, and musical instruments quite often to illustrate his points:

And something that’s even more interesting: Hermes is the one who invented the nine-stringed lyre. What is a musical instrument, if not a table on which one can compose a thousand languages, and as many melodies and chants? Its invention opens the way for an infinite number of inventions. This is good philosophy in action, whose excellent goal is to invent the transcendental space, the conditions, for possible inventions of the future. The invention of possible inventions. This is a good image, followed by a good generalization, of what I was pointing out a little while ago: the conditional space and time for transporting messages back and forth. So, touch all the strings of this instrument and compose at leisure the possible ballads: this opens up a whole time. (p. 117)

As well, Serres extends Hermes beyond his death, into the Christian era with angels, as the “multiplicity of […] messengers fills the heavens.” I do not think he intends his allusion to absorb the entirety of the theological implications; however, he also does not discount them either. Rather, for Serres, angels (in their multiple, stratified sense) allow him to describe succinctly his understanding of the world of relations between concepts, a description that seems to have much in line with the “Hertzian Space” of Anthony Dunne and Fiona Raby (see Hertzian Tales , recently updated, and Design Noir ):

What could be more luminous than a space traversed with messages? Look at the sky, even right here above us. It’s traversed by planes, satellites, electromagnetic waves from television, radio, fax, electronic mail. The world we are immersed in is a space-time of communication. Why shouldn’t I call it angel space, since this means the messengers, the systems of mailmen, of transmissions in the act of passing or the space through which they pass? Do you know, for example, that at every moment there are at least a million people on flights through the sky, as though immoble or suspended—nonvariables with variations? Indeed, we live in the century of angels. (pp. 118-119)

Saturday, 22 July 2006 - 11:55pm

Narrative Intelligence Reading Group (1990-1996)

As I begin (along with Aaron Zinman) to create the framework for a new reading group at the Lab (tentatively titled In Situ ) that will offer cross-, multi-, and inter-disciplinary analysis of technology, I’m encouraged by a previous experience of this sort over 16 years ago entitled the “Narrative Intelligence Reading Group”. An account of their experiences was presented in a paper in 1999: A Brief Overview of the Narrative Intelligence Reading Group :

As early graduate students in the Media Lab, we were faced with trying to synthesize an intellectual framework in which we could situate our work. The desire of the founders and early members of NI to create a common discourse and practice connecting artificial intelligence and literary theory also stemmed from a growing frustration with the limits of our respective disciplines in their ability to inform the analysis, design, and construction of computational media.

After several years of overcoming our disciplinary prejudices and habits, what did eventually emerge was a new type of interdisciplinary methodology for Narrative Intelligence. The primary breakthrough occurred in our developing ways to interleave and cross-pollinate theory (analysis of texts, people, and computational systems) with practice (creating new forms of computational media). By having read, discussed, and critiqued each other’s core texts, we were able to develop a common discourse that supported a dialectic between the theoretical frameworks we inherited from artificial intelligence and literary theory and our practical experience of analyzing and building computational media systems.

They offer a detailed list of readings covered, many of which we can probably use in our group as well. The list of people involved in the group, given as a set of acknowledgments at the end of the paper, includes many who are quite influential in media studies and AI today.

Friday, 21 July 2006 - 3:06pm

midiRecord: record an incoming MIDI stream to disk

I’ve had a relatively cheap Korg synthesizer sitting in my room for about a year now. Regularly I’ve thought about using it and its MIDI capabilities to explore various musical ideas by recording what I do to a MIDI file for later perusal or transcription. All I wanted to do was something simple: save the MIDI data that enter my iBook through my MIDI-USB cable to a MIDI file. No routing, no use of software synths, nothing like that: just save the data that I’m playing. This shouldn’t be too difficult, especially given that MIDI is a twenty-year old technology.

Wednesday night I went about trying to find a piece of software to let me do this…

… and by Thursday night I had written midiRecord.

Basically I discovered, through hours and hours of Google searching and discussions with friends of mine who also work in music technology, that what I wanted to do was not possible without the use of expensive sequencer software such as Logic, Digital Performer, or Garage Band. A Pure Data extension called “seq” suggests that this is possible, but the MIDI files it created were malformed; similarly, version 5 of csound purports to have this feature, but there is no documentation as to how to use it. All of the freeware tools I found involved complicated abilities to route and pipe data from one object to another, but none of them allowed me to save the data to a MIDI file. I found a few tools on Linux, but none that worked with Core MIDI. And while I discovered that I had Garage Band on my laptop, I also discovered that it won’t export MIDI.

In the end I came across the cross-platform RtMidi library that gave me access to the underlying MIDI-In bytestream. All that remained was the “simple” task of writing the stream to disk; I say “simple” because the MIDI format was designed when byte space was at a premium and uses a number of bit-twidling hacks to squeeze the most amount of information in the least amount of space. Elegant, perhaps, but it makes the application developer’s job much more difficult.

What I ended up with is midiRecord, a command-line tool to do exactly what I wanted, and nothing else:

http://zeitkunst.org/projects/midiRecord/midiRecord-0.1.tar.gz

I’ve included the source and a Makefile, along with a compiled version that runs at least on OS X.4.7.

Run the command with “—help” to get an idea of usage. Read the README file to get an idea of current hacks and issues. As well, let me know if you have suggestions for improvement, patches, complaints, et cetera.

Thursday, 20 July 2006 - 2:44am

Media Commons: the impossibility of translation, among other things

Via purse lip square jaw :

The Institute for the Future of the Book just launched a new project entitled Media Commons, an attempt to bring scholarly discourse into a “scholarly network” through development of new means for creating and reading scholarly works.

While I agree in principle with the desire to revamp the means of academic production, I have a number of worries, highlighted below.

This need has grown for any number of systemic reasons, including the substantive and often debilitating time-lags between the completion of a piece of scholarly writing and its publication, as well as the subsequent delays between publication of the primary text and publication of any reviews or responses to that text.

I have seen this argument raised often in the cry for new forms of publishing. However, I have not seen evidence that the problem actually exists. In the neurosciences (at least in my experience, caveat lector) there is not this incessant call for speed in publishing: true, researchers worry about being “scooped” by others working on similar problems, but this does not seem to be the concern that is raised by the quote. Rather, I read in it a worry that the topics on which media studies authors write might become stale before they receive feedback. I am sure that I am missing something here, since what I just articulated would suggest that the pieces were journalistic rather than depth-treading.

Not that I disagree with having regular, immediate feedback as to our work; yet I regularly worry about the need for speed that underlies these requests.

Such openness and interconnection will also allow us to make the process of scholarly work just as visible and valuable as its product; readers will be able to follow the development of an idea from its germination in a blog, though its drafting as an article, to its revisions, and authors will be able to work in dialogue with those readers, generating discussion and obtaining feedback on work-in-progress at many different stages. Because such discussions will take place in the open, and because the enormous time lags of the current modes of academic publishing will be greatly lessened, this ongoing discourse among authors and readers will no doubt result in the generation of many new ideas, leading to more exciting new work.

I question the connection between shortening time lags and the “generation of many new ideas”. Like my concerns highlighted in the previous paragraph, I do not see immediately how increased speed leads directly to better ideas. Given the difficult and detailed arguments of scholarly discourse, sometimes time is exactly what is needed to understand, internalize, and react to new ideas. Along the same lines, I also question the belief that better work comes through “open” discussion; in fact, I would suggest, although I can’t prove, that much of what we term as “great” pieces of philosophy would not have come about had they been worked on in the public eye: the ideas, the radical thoughts toned down due to feedback from peers. We are not speaking of the methods of peer review here, which exist to help find errors in quantitative logic; rather, we deal with a qualitative logic at times, where the rules and the assumptions cannot be entirely agreed upon. I agree in part with Serres, where in an interview with Latour, he says, “What makes for advancement in philosophy, and also in science, is inventing concepts, and this invention always takes place in solitude, independence, and freedom—-indeed, in silence.” (Conversations on Science, Culture, and Time, p. 37)

(As an aside, my copying of the above quote highlighted a present technical problem that will haunt academic discourse, unless we decide to change our conventions: I just copied and pasted that paragraph from the linked post, yet it lost the emphasis on the words “process” and “product” in the first sentence. While this might be immaterial to the quoted example, in other contexts, where these subtle choices of typographical highlighting are crucial to the point of the argument, the visual loss might lead to interpretations not intended. Thus for academic discourse, which does often rely on nuance, such technical hurdles (softened slightly, I hate to admit, by word processors such as Word which preserve formatting in pasted excerpts) need to be dealt with.)

Moreover, because participants in the network will come from many different perspectives — not just faculty, but also students, independent scholars, media makers, journalists, critics, activists, and interested members of the broader public — MediaCommons will promote the integration of research, teaching, and service.

This relates directly to a post by Anne Galloway discussing the special problems of generalisation and inter- and multi-disciplinary work. I wrote there, and still contend, that perfect translation between different disciplines is not possible, and that the person who straddles or works between boundaries acts as a mediator and lives in a space of continual cognitive dissonance, with conflicting modes and means of discourse. I worry that a stated attempt at “integration” is not only doomed from the start, but is contrary to what we actually want. Instead of integration, why not nesting? Instead of trying to tie everything together in a neat, enlightenment-influenced package, why not focus on multiple understandings, from a variety of perspectives, realizing some will always disagree, some will always agree, and that total integration will merely eliminate the differences that are so interesting, that give life to a multitude of disciplines.

Finally, regarding this entire endeavor, I worry about the issue of time: not only the archival-or-not status of these texts, but also the time need to read, digest, post, comment, revise, collaborate, and publish (and this is for only one text!). This same issue has been brought up recently on the iDC list in the context of participation in list cultures. I also worry about what I crudely call the “bathroom” test: can I make comments on this piece of scholarly work while sitting in the bathroom? Substitute bathroom for any other non-desk place and you see my point. Until I have the easy means to mark up a text, to write in the margins, without having to use a keyboard or a mouse, and which affords me at least as many options as pencil/pen and paper, I will not use such an annotation system on a regular basis. I worry that whatever the underlying technology of Media Commons, the same practical problems will haunt it, just like any other collaborative, annotation-type system that has been developed.

Even with all of my criticisms, I am glad to see that some are working on the problem, and I wish them the best of luck: something like this will happen, incorporating answers to these and other’s criticisms, and enabling a certain transformation of scholarly work.

Wednesday, 12 July 2006 - 8:05pm

beware the decibel...

(I posted the following to the microsound mailing list. I wish I could point you to the relevant thread, but the archives seem to stop around April of this year.)

… is how a public service announcement at my radio station begins.

(What follows is a rant/polemic; feel free to move on if not interested in those sorts of things. This is entirely separate from the recent myspace talk. I wrote it last night when my thoughts were more raw, and I haven’t edited it in the context of a morning re-appraisal.)

Tuesday night I went to a concert by Tetuzi Akiyama, part of the Japanese improvisation scene. He is most known for his “onkyo” style of improv, focusing on austere, sparse, quiet pieces that make intense listening demands on the audience. The first half of his concert focused on this style.

The second half was him, a guitar, an amp pointed directly at the audience, and 100 decibels.

This is not my first experience with this; I cannot even begin to count the number of experimental music/microsound concerts that I have attended that were simply too painful to listen to. Not because of the content, but because of the physical strength of the sound. I left only 15 minutes into his set; the ringing in my ears subsided an hour later.

“Well, dufus, you should have been wearing earplugs.” The simple response. Yet I have to ask what gives the musician the right to do this physical violence to me? Because it is physical violence; through his power, he is harming me in a way we seem to be encouraging through attendance at these concerts. It is as if the musician is being so egotistical to say, “My music, my sound is more important than your ability to hear anything in the future. I will harm your ability to perceive sound, and there is nothing you can do to stop it. Oh, you can wear earplugs which will degrade your ability to hear me, but that is the only way you will be able to experience my works.”

What other art forms allow the artist to hurt the art viewer/listener in this way? Conceptual/performance art, perhaps, but I know of no visual art that is so intense that you can loose your sight by viewing it (the beauty of the sun notwithstanding).

Amplification has been around for a number of decades now. Okay, we got it: you can play music loud. You have the ability through a simple twist of your wrist, a turn of the knob, to destroy my hearing. I bow before your power.

In Akiyama’s case it was even worse; performance in a concrete room, with his back facing the amp. So of course he’s not getting the full brunt of the pressure waves, instead hearing the multiple decayed reflections. Yet the audience, which dwindled quickly, had the choice to leave or stay.

Yes, we indeed have that choice. But I have to ask: why do we even need to be making this choice in the first place? We are not teenage punk rockers who don’t know any better; we are not ravers for which the low frequency physicality is important. We are people who love sound, who love the amazing ability we have to sculpt sound. Yet too many musicians persist in playing music at volumes that will prevent us from experiencing these wonderful sounds in the future.

So again: I ask why? If you play your music at physically damaging volumes, why? What do you hope to get out of it? And what are you expecting of your audience?

I’ll also say that I’m 26, I hate being this curmudgeonly, but I want to be able to hear in the future.

nick

Wednesday, 5 July 2006 - 11:44pm

The Non-Mutability of Contracts

I’ve recently moved to a new location near Davis Square in Somerville, quite close to a number of my favourite haunts (Diesel Cafe (flash warning), Someday Cafe, and McIntyre and Moore (another flash warning, and for the main navigation as well!)). My new place apartment didn’t have network access, and for the first day or so it was okay, as there was an open wireless spot nearby. That disappeared by my second day (even though it had been working fine for months, according to my new apartmentmate). So the next few days were without network access, which I have to say was quite a nice change: coming home from work and not constantly checking my e-mail, or reading web pages, a relief from the constant connectivity of the Lab. Yet I realized that as much as I enjoyed the absence from the wired world, I knew that I required it because of being at the Lab.

Thus came my search for new broadband options, limited to simply cable or DSL. I quickly dismissed cable access, as it would cost over $40 a month, whereas DSL was only $20/mo. from…Verizon.

Yes, I have decided to sign up for a company whose business practices I despise. Yet there are not really any other options (I know that I could choose a provider like Covad, yet I would still need local access from Verizon).

Unlike most other times when I do these things, I actually read (skimmed) through their terms of service, finding some rather disturbing passages:

2. Verizon reserves the right to deny Service to you, or immediately to terminate your Service for material breach, if your use of the Service or your use of an alias or the aliases of additional users on your account, whether explicitly or implicitly, and in the sole discretion of Verizon: … (d) is objectionable for any reason; …

“Objectionable for any reason”? This of course means that they could terminate my account for posting political views that they do not agree with, even if they are legal.

3. You may NOT use the Service as follows: … (j) to damage the name or reputation of Verizon, its parent, affiliates and subsidiaries, or any third parties; …

So, once I actually have DSL access at home, the posting of this post might be cause for me to be in violation of Verizon’s acceptable use policy (AUP).

This is all part of a contact that I must “sign” before receiving their service.

There was a time when contracts were made between people sitting across of the table; yes, it was formally between the person and the company, but the company was represented by a person whom you could see, touch, and talk to. Now my contract is between myself and a system, an agent to which I can talk, but which will not talk back to me. Before, at least in my limited understanding of this, if I did not like the terms of the contract, I could discuss them with the person (working on behalf of the company) and come to some agreement about changing the disputed items. Now, I have no chance to offer new options, to suggest ways that the contract might be better for me, as the customer. (Isn’t it sad that that last sentence feels absurd in today’s climate?)

When did contracts become something that we couldn’t negotiate over, when they became as if chiseled in rock? Yet that rock is merely an artifice, as the company has access to its materiality and can re-form it anytime it wants. We are given commandments to follow; their truth is taken for granted. We must accept on faith the words that the company provides to us, assuming (in our naïve view) that they cannot be changed. We have no recourse, except writing posts such as this (which might, in a draconian instance, cause us to be in breach of the contract we do not agree with).

Wikis and collaborative software are not the answer to all of these problems, but I wonder how a group of people would modify the AUP to fit the needs of the user, while trying to balance business and statutory requirements.

Monday, 3 July 2006 - 4:41pm

Reading <em>Revolt, She Said</em>

It seems to be a commonplace these days that we self-consciously watch what we say, what we read, what we do when in public. A phrase that is innocuous in the company of our like-minded friends becomes potential jail fodder at an airport. Such was my perhaps-unwarranted concern when, during my extended travails in airports and airplanes across America last weekend, I was reading a book entitled Revolt, She Said , a collection of interviews with the critical theorist slash psychoanalyst Julia Kristeva. The word “revolt” is likely not taken as congenial when, in the stuffy surroundings of dry processed air known as the airplane cabin, I am surrounded by others who willingly give up all semblance of humanness for the mere perception of safety. (Witness the fact that I was given “secondary” screening twice for refusing to remove my shoes, even though they do not set off the metal detector.) I held the front cover guardedly, worried that someone who is more worried than I would alert the “authorities” about the rabble-rouser sitting next to him. (I remember reading a blog post recently about a security researcher who was reading government material about weapons on a plane, only to be accosted by flight attendants who were tipped off by a spooked passenger. If someone else remembers the link to the post, let me know.)

Yet the entirety of Kristeva’s book is about taking back the real meaning of revolt:

I like the term revolt because of its etymological association with return, patience, distance, repetition, elaboration. Revolt is not simply about rejection and destruction; it is also about starting over. Unlike the word “violence”, “revolt” foregrounds an element of renewal and regeneration.

In Kristeva’s view, by being subsumed into political revolutions, the appropriation of “revolt” masks the almost-beauty of the word: continual rebirth, the possibility of “renewal and regeneration” that is the quality of freedom. Revolt requires an authority to be against and thus encourages regular questioning of the basis of that authority’s power.

Amongst these dialectical discussions of revolt comes what stood out most in my mind, the connection to modern technology. I quote it here in full:

Interviewer: It’s rather paradoxical if you think that today in the “New Technologies” you also encounter an excess of memory. Kristeva: Yes, but what one calls memory is in fact a storing of information that has nothing to do with interrogation. There is no place for nothingness or for questioning in this storage system, it is merely an accumulation of data, a databank. What Plato and St. Augustine referred to as memory was a permanent doubting. Its essential aspect is nothingness, from Heidegger through Satre. The question of nothingness is essential as an aspect of freedom. But what is the meaning of nothingness: the possibility to rebel, to change and to transform. With a computer you simply store data as such. But the idea of a transformative creativity that emerges through nothingness and through questioning are parameters that are completely dismissed. I: I think that storing information is an ideology in itself. K: It is precisely a technocratic ideology that is supposed to abolish anxiety. But what I am saying is the opposite: anxiety, repulsion, nothingness are essential aspects of freedom. That’s what revolt is. When one abolishes revolt that is linked to anxiety and rejection, there is no reason to change. You store things and keep storing. It’s a banker’s idea, not an idea of a rebel, which spreads this technocratic ideology.

Where is the “nothingness” in modern digital technology? It cannot exist in the concept of “0”, which now has the same informational footing as “1”. The interpretation is that all data is meaningful: each photo taken, each sound recorded, each word transcribed is kept in memory for some potential future purpose. “Just in case”, we tell ourselves as we fill the two-hundred gigabyte drive continuously. We feel as if this relieves our “anxiety”. Yet as Kristeva says, anxiety is an “essential” aspect of freedom. We have become intimately tied to our “information” in a way not experienced before.

I face this issue every day at the Lab when I see project after project that focuses on continual recording of data from our lives: the collection of movement data through accelerometers; the recordings of facial expressions for affective analysis; and most insidiously, the accumulation of years of audio and video of a young child for linguistic analysis. Yet in none of their discourses do the researchers leave the technical to understand the broader impact of this mass of data. Where is the space for “nothingness”, of information that is not tagged, that can be left to interpretation, that, yes, causes us anxiety and thus forces a new relationship to the event or the data? Where is the questioning of whether or not aspects of our lives can actually be represented as “information”, in the Shannon sense? How can we “doubt” when faced with a sharp-edged concretion of bits that form the “ground truth” of our discourse? When the fuzzy becomes steep?

Given the roots of smoothly varying discourse in human history, I believe that our technology must reflect this topology while continually questioning its basis. That is, while the practical limits of digital computers might have prevented conceptions of “nothingness” or forgetting in the past, I think we have come to the point where we can take these notions into account in the developing of systems. Because to become nostalgic is to give up; we cannot return to a time where the analog formed the basis of all of our representations. Nor do we simply want the digital to become a better and better simulation of the analog. But perhaps we can incorporate new considerations of these meanings that are rooted in artifacts ranging from our daily conversations to art and literature.

I am struggling with this right now with regards to my considerations of thesis topic. I am currently trekking in a direction that considers digital music-making in a framework quite similar to Kristeva’s: that digital systems support the primacy of continual memory, without the option of forgetting or anxiety. I’m in the early stages of the development of these thoughts, and this path will likely branch into a new direction in the future.

Perhaps all of this reading of theory has “changed my brain” (to paraphrase someone not-to-be-named) in ways I am only beginning to explore.

Books bought today: Aden Evens’ Sound Ideas and Giles Deleuze and Felix Guttari’s What is Philosophy?

Music listened to: Part of Meredith Monk’s Volcano Songs; I can see the roots of Björk’s Medulla in this album. Also, shoutouts on WMBR on Sunday night, a true place of anxiety and public forgetting, where the person making the shoutout has no idea if the recipient is actually listening; but no matter, since the message is soon forgotten by all heard; but if the recipient is listening, the connection is private, sender and recipient perhaps not knowing if their thoughts were heard.

Thursday, 8 June 2006 - 5:56am

The ground-as-bucket for water from above

Along main street, the pointless decorative flags flap with captured fury; I cautiously arrange my umbrella so it doesn’t feel the same anger. The rain mutates from drop to pellet, ignoring the will of the Earth to fall straight down, sometimes being pushed to the side by the same fury. But at some point the drop-pellets become a clear mass of liquid, deceptively deep in places. Instead of going “as the bird flies”, I detour to the left, to the right, unconscious straightness morphing into unconscious curves—not for exploration’s sake, but because I don’t trust the waterproofing of my black leather boots; already the tread has worn smooth in parts. All I do is walk at least two miles a day in them, on concrete. “Worker’s boots” they are called, the bourgeoisie in me shouldn’t push them so close to uselessness in only three quarters of a year.

These are the days that even though the facts suggest global warming; even though the calendar says June; even though commencement is soon; I cherish the regression to the days of March. As long as this continues, I can put off my continual grumbling about the weather.

I finished yesterday The Deleuze Connections; more on that in a later post.

I also began and finished recently Marching Plague: Germ Warfare and Global Public Health by the Critical Art Ensemble. I’m going to work on a grown-up “book report”, known as a book review, soon. Perhaps I will publish it here, or perhaps I will try and shop it places; who knows.

In the end, however, the listlessness I feel in my research is the only reason I have the time to read these things. At some point I need to latch onto something for an extended period of time. I have ideas, but I await responses before unknowingly walking into the chasm. Perhaps in the meantime I can let these softly-formed thoughts fly around inside my head, and focus on what others consider to be more concrete. Maybe if I choose one question a day, and see what I can find out about it. Of course I can’t cover everything, but enough to be conversant. So: is tonality innate in humans? Can you recognize emotions in music, or do you experience them? What is known about relationship-forming in creative groups? Etc.

Overarching, the need to combine these things with technological things of my own making.

Wednesday, 31 May 2006 - 6:33am

Walking into the warmth of summer

Sponsor week is done, and with it, my thoughts on “mutable recordings” will wait to be found again in a couple of days.

My object paper is done (at least for the class).

It’s past Memorial Day, which by the conventions of the US (and not the moon) means we’re in summer now. I’m hoping to come up with a good selection of things to do, words to read, sounds to hear, places to visit, projects to explore. I hesitate to call any of these things plans, as I’ve had enough of direction in my summers; let me travel without a heading, so that I can find the best one down the way.

Some of the thoughts with which I want to become acquainted are those of Giles Deleuze. Before I tackle some of his (and Guattari’s) more interesting works, I’m surveying the thoughtscape through John Rajchman’s excellent (so far) The Deleuze Connections. What’s makes Rajchman’s book so interesting is the thoughts of Deleuze; who knows if I’ll be able to get from the source what I get from the secondary source, but what I read I find fascinating. A philosophy of “radical empiricism”, of making connections and of multiplicity, of not falling back on transcendence, but finding the most interesting here in the world. Such straightforward thoughts when expressed in Rajchman’s words, but much harder to put into practice. Because this is a philosophy for practice; philosophy for non-philosophers, as they say. But the hierarchical ordering is ingrained from early stories: beginnings, middles, ends, in that order, never the branching or turning upon itself that we actually find in our lives. Things seem to progress from one event to the next, but weren’t you just thinking of something you thought of recently? Aren’t those two ideas connected? And who is to say that the person you are at this moment is the same as that a few days ago? You are not; you changed, and while your understanding of you remains, it can’t be captured in a linear deductive progression.

Thus we need branching, and rhizomes, and a radical rethinking of how we think. And of how we write, and make music, and relate to each other and society. Yet it’s incredibly challenging when analytical philosophy infuses our daily lives, especially at a place like MIT. How am I to relate the actual process of creating the piece Variations 10b (more on this in a later post) when I am (ostensibly) writing a paper for the ACM Multimedia conference? Lack of logical progression is seen as, well, illogical. But what if at every choice among many paths to take, we were able to provide grounded (in some philosophy) reasons for our decision? And what if this gave the reader (listener, viewer) a more complete understanding of not only the topic, but also the author? Wouldn’t this be a valuable thing to do? Yet in most quarters it’s not desired, or wanted. Perhaps someday.

And perhaps someday I’ll learn how to do it. Maybe later this summer. Check back in August.

Pages